Getting to Know Kyla Barkin

Here's another interview from one of the many CoolNY 2014 Dance Festival Artists.  Kyla Barkin is the artistic director of BARKIN/SELISSEN PROJECT.  Since Monkeyhouse is performing the first weekend of the festival I'm sad I wont get to see her work, but you can find Kyla and her company on Friday, February 7th at 9:00pm & Sunday, February 9th at 6:00pm.  All performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY and are FREE!

N:  From reading descriptions of your work it sounds like you often deal with topics drawn from the sciences.  (You don't get the word neuroplasticity in the description of a dance piece very often!  I'm excited to see the piece!)  What is your non-dance background?  What draws you the partnering of dance and math/science?
photo by Sloane Timson
KB:  I have always been fascinated by the human body and its mechanics.  While studying anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise science, yoga, and more, I developed a greater appreciation for science which expanded to physics and eventually beyond.  There is quite a bit of physics involved in dance therefore we are constantly considering scientific notions as well as applying the scientific method to almost everything we do in rehearsal.  I have also had many relationships with friends and family who are scientists and artists who are intrigued by and incorporating elements of science in their work.  These people have been tremendously influential in my interest and understanding, but what is more is that their passion for math and science is as strong as any artist's for their own form, and nothing less than inspiring.  Additionally, I believe that humans best absorb information when all senses are engaged and, by applying scientific theories or concepts within our process, we are able to deeply understand and communicate new information which is useful for all involved.  I also believe that there must be a balance of opposites to create a full spectrum of anything.  Merging the arts and sciences is an example of the beauty of that synergy.  There is science and math in the arts as much as there is passion and creativity in science and mathematics and we need not keep them completely separate, but rather bring them together to create a fuller experience. 

Photo by Tom Caravaglia
 N:  I am very curious about your piece "Differential Cohomology".  I read that it is based on a mathematical theory.  Can you tell me about where the idea for the piece came from and how it developed?KB:  Differential Cohomology is a mathematical theory developed by Jim Simons.  Early one fall morning, on a walk in central park, Jim was explaining the theory to me and we realized that it could make a great dance.  Jim commissioned the piece to be shown at the opening of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics' International Workshop on Differential Cohomology at Stony Brook University. Differential Cohomology, dance of the diagram  was shown as part of an evening of BARKIN/SELISSEN PROJECT's work with the Sirius String Quartet and Ray Anderson and Band at the Staller Center for Performing Arts Main Stage in 2011.  As far as how the piece developed, Jim had defined 8 terms for us to be able to understand the diagram and theory.  I took those 8 terms and created one movement for each, then either accumulated or subtracted to create two phrases.  When executed simultaneously, there would be some perfect unison and some variation.  A duet was also created to represent the mysterious and all-knowing center couple who absorb and impart information.  This vocabulary became the seed for the movement and was further fleshed out by using other descriptive words that were used by Jim in his lecture.  We also created phrases and variations using the dancers' input and interpretation of some of the "rules of the road" for following the theory (topology, geometric shape, interactions, being "crushed to zero", etc.)  Sometimes problematic was the ability to stick strictly to the rules due to the fact that the moving parts of the diagram may only move from stage right to stage left, with the exception of the center duet couple, who have more freedom.  Jim recognized this as an issue for stage and we agreed that it would be ok to break the rules sometimes under the philosophy of all must be legit during the day however, "there's no accounting for what happens at night," which was helpful in building suspense, tension/release, etc…   

N:  This is fascinating!  I can't wait to watch the documentary on the making of the piece by Nel Shelby!
N:  I see that you danced for Doug Elkins.  (He is one of my favorite choreographers!)  Who are some of your favorite choreographers you've worked with?  What about choreographers you haven't had the chance to work with? 

photo by Hannah Schillinger
KB:  Yes, Doug is a great choreographer.  I worked with him when I was pretty young and new to New York City…  One of my favorite choreographers is actually Pina Bausch.  I feel the range of movement and theatrics is crafted and textured in such a way that I am often transported and inspired.  I generally find that I have fewer favorite choreographers and more favorite pieces or moments that I've seen and/or been a part of.  Having said that, another favorite is Janis Brenner with whom I've worked for many years.  I met Janis at UCLA when I was a freshman and joined her company shortly after moving to New York in the late 90's.  Janis continues to touch me with her work to this day and in different ways on different days.  It is multi-layered, intelligent, aesthetically interesting, and emotionally relevant to many. 
N:  People in the arts often develop strong mentor/mentee relationships.  Did/do you have a mentor throughout your career?  
KB:  I have always considered Janis to be a mentor.  There are other people I reflect upon and draw from; however, it's a little of this and a little of that.  Janis has been around and intentionally guided me for a very long time.  She is usually the first person I call when I am ready to reveal what I am working on and to receive trusted feedback. 
photo by Yi-Chun Wu
When creating work, different influences and people ring in my mind.  Sometimes it is about using tools or answering questions, sometimes about accessing or acquiring new ideas and/or skills, but mostly it is about finding your own way by using each experience as information to increase awareness as well as knowing when to let go, when to get out of the way, and how to cultivate art and relationships.

N:  Do you have a person or people that you have taken the mentorship role for now that you're a more established artist?  How do you feel those relationships change your work?
KB:  Hmmm.  That is a bit of a hard question, because one doesn't always know whether they have made or are making that type of impact on anyone specifically at the time.  The short answer is, yes.  I have had long-term students, interns, assistants, dancers, etc. and it is clear that we have wonderful relationships and they have learned a lot, as have I.  According to "neuroplasticity"  I guess we are all influencing one another.  It is just a matter of whether someone has been named "mentor" or has been making a lasting and/or visible impression over a steady period of time.  I do feel nurturing toward quite a few people with whom I work and love giving feedback and workshopping ideas to help in any way I can.  I also feel that we are relatively young as a company and we may be in the early stages of engaging in mentorships rather than looking back at a longer history of having done such a thing, officially.

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